‘I’ ON CULTURE
Sequels generally do not work out well. That’s why The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is such a pleasant surprise. The first movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, was a surprise hit a few years ago, but its story of a group of not-very-well-off British expats at a wreck of an Indian hotel was a “fish out of water” tale, as we saw a fine cast dealing with a wholly new society.
This film has a different motif. One of the characters twists an old proverb around: “There is no present like the time,” and that defines the key elements of this new film, which instead focuses on the choices of the hotel’s residents that make the last years of their lives more precious.
The old-timers are still hanging out with owner and co-manager Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) running around taking roll call to ensure there are no “unexpected departures” (deaths) overnight. But the hotel is full, and he goes off with co-manager Mrs. Donnelly (Maggie Smith) to Los Angeles to raise money to buy a second hotel, meeting with tycoon Ty Burley (David Strathairn), who promises to send an inspector.
His joy is muted when he sees his gorgeous fiancée Sunaina (Tena Desae) practicing a sexy Bollywood wedding dance with one of his friends, Kushal (Shazad Latif), who had formerly been his best friend. His jealousy creates new problems.
Back at the hotel, we find the rest of the cast. Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are continuing their glacial movement toward a relationship, Carol (Diana Hardcastle) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) are attempting to have a relationship, which both have agreed is non-exclusive. Madge (Celia Imrie) is dating two wealthy elderly Indians and unable to decide between the two, and Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey), Sonny’s mother, is trying to not annoy her son.
Into the mix comes American Guy Chambers (Richard Gere), whom Sonny quickly identifies as the inspector. Gere seems less interested in the hotel than in the lovely Mrs. Kapoor.
The stories are flimsy, but the acting carries the day. Dench and Nighy are so sweet that we have to root for them. Each is so terrified of the other saying “no” that neither seems able to declare true feelings, although everyone around them is rooting for one of them to make a move.
Pickup and Hardcastle walk a trickier line. Norman, an elderly Lothario, has fallen so hard for his woman that he is monogamous, while Carol is unaware of the change because he is so flirtatious. She goes out for affairs while he spies on her and, at one point, fears he has actually put out a hit on her. And Madge, who makes her driver nuts as he goes between the two mansions of her suitors, comes to realize she really prefers, well, someone much closer to her.
Gere uses his immense charm really well, fitting in beautifully, and his romantic scenes with Dubey are lovely, although I doubt any man outside of a movie would get anywhere with a woman he implies is past her prime. Kapoor and Desae are great as the young lovers.
Maggie Smith is, of course, fantastic. She always seems a perfect know-it-all, and the movie freely gives her a lot of funny lines. Somehow, she always knows how to be both caustic and loving. She is a treasure and makes her close friendship with Sonny the key center of the film. It is a part that could be cloying, but she never takes a false step.
The ending, after many twists and turns, is a fun Bollywood dance number for Sonny and Sunaina’s wedding. Everyone — well, almost everyone — takes part. Screenwriter Ol Parker has created a charming film that veteran director John Madden has turned into a stylish hit. It is a celebration of all the little, marvelous things in life.
The film is a treat for those of us not terribly interested in the average teenage or just-into-adulthood relationships that are front and center in most films. We really enjoyed this one.